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Who could imagine that a young Kenyan pianist, Ivan Kiwuwa, who played on the final Friday of the Festival, could have come all the way from Africa to teach us a new and unforced relationship with our own Western musical classics when our best music graduates, supposedly grounded and steeped in the tradition, have difficulty nowadays in relating even to the Romantics of the repertoire? One reason might be that the rules of the game governing the separation of mind and body in the West -- the old 'divide and conquer' routine -- have not taken their toll on Kiwuwa as they have on the rest of us -- he still has that wonderful litheness and integration of African dancers as applied to his playing apparatus. Even his handshake is not clenched and hypostasized but malleable and ductile as a fish in water.
What we attain to only after long hours of training, Alexander technique, visits to the London Clinic or to Carola Grindea herself (who was present), is his by right. And since 'flow' is the quintessence of Classical music as it is of our mental processes, we can check and celebrate the reality of either by means of the other, in his case not having to translate tiresomely as we must the language of our thoughts into a new body-language for every piece, be it the Schubert, Beethoven or Mendelssohn which constituted Kiwuwa's programme. It may be that, for him, this instantaneous process only operates in terms of the classics and precludes the late Romantics where extra-musical factors -- superimposed programmes, extremes of emotion, the 'Romantic agony' -- get in the way of its safe passage: whether here or at the South Bank, I have only ever heard Kiwuwa in Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn, and while his Beethoven Sonata Op 54, in the present instance, was finely focused, the violent contrast of the ingratiating 'tempo d'un Menuetto' with the ensuing canonic octave passages of the 'sempre forte e staccato' in both hands was given a strict and utterly satisfying musical interpretation rather than risk unbalancing the exposition by treating it as a gruff Beethovenian temper-tantrum.
Unlike us self-willed Western pianists, Kiwuwa never makes the mistake of 'protesting' too much or trying too hard to be original. That is why he can contain the classics and they can contain him, without breaking what for us has become an increasingly fragile if hallowed vessel. And that is why we can listen to his interpretations of the three Schubert Impromptus Nos 2, 3 and 4 D899 as if they were being rediscovered, free from both the oversentimentalised and overintellectualised accretions which threaten our reception of them from almost the moment of creation -- saving us from all those unwitting self-transcriptions of well-known classics that our ears inflict on us and that have become for each one of us a part of our cultural baggage -- worsened if anything by wrap-around wallpaper classics, what my friend Murray Schafer used to call the 'schizophonia' of recorded sound.
Copyright © 15 August 2007
Malcolm Troup, London UK